Welcome to our newly introduced section on Food. Whether you like it or not, the dining experience is inextricably linked to fashion. The food, the people, their attire, the décor, the presentation, the service and timing all have to adhere to a fashionable standard.
Zal Bahadurji our young taster with an eye for fashionable eateries will guide you through what’s in store and will even give you a tip or two on places to avoid.
Expectations run high when planning for a visit to Café Zoe. Exclamations like “You haven’t been to Zoe?!” make you wonder what all the fuss is about. The fuss, I can tell you, is most definitely justified. More than just the food, what’s really judged when eating out is the experience; and in that regard, Café Zoe excels – it’s the experience that brings you back.
It’s light, airy and bright. From the frustrations of the bumpy, narrow street behind the door you just walked through, you enter an inviting ambience of high ceilings, skylights, light-brown wood tables with just enough euro-chic to keep it interesting yet unpretentious.
The attentive wait-staff and kitchen were quick to get our meal going. Our mini lamb burgers were the first to arrive, halved and assembled in an orderly but skewed queue. Perfectly seasoned and with an ever-so-slight kick of spice, those flavorful, juicy little lamb patties atop a layer of pesto mayo were the perfect way to begin. A fantastic ratio of meat, bun and condiments; the bun itself was superb; firm, supportive and even a little crispy on the outside yet soft on the inside – beautiful.
A restaurant is also judged on how it does the basics. A Caesar salad is often how I benchmark the food at a restaurant. This one surprised me. The lettuce was packed into a glass jar, placed in a bowl, and topped with a side of dressing. The idea was that you would empty the contents of the jar into the bowl and then proceed to dress the salad. I might be alone here but when I go out to eat, I don’t expect to toss my own salad; which would inevitably end up strewn across the table. It seemed like quality and practicality made way for presentation – designed to be different just for the sake of being different. Top that off with cold, dry, under seasoned chicken and the package was just not appealing. The silver lining was that they did make an effort with the dressing – the anchovy was apparent (maybe overly so). Verdict – needs work.
The menu is extensive, yet organised and focused. It does make it difficult to pick since so much seems so good. What followed was a series of hits and misses. There was a rich truffle and mushroom linguini that was difficult to decipher. It might have been too heavy yet I felt the sauce needed something more to hold it all together. I do love truffle though.
Next up was the beef burger. After the amazing success that was the mini-lamb sibling, I had my hopes up. Maybe too much so but it was a solid burger. The bun was again executed with similar bakery wizardry, the patty seasoned, flavorful and appropriately sized however it was unevenly cooked and lacked the juicy sumptuousness of the lamb. Overall though, probably one of the better burgers in the city – definitely the best in its price bracket.
The finale, and what I was most looking forward to, was the Salmon Wellington. I was interested in the Wellington because it’s a difficult technique to master; another judgment test – the ‘reach’ items. It arrived – gleaming golden brown and seemingly proud of its own inception. I was not, however. The outer layers of the pastry were buttery and flaky, as they should be, while closer to the middle it was the opposite – doughy and moist. The pastry was filled with a fillet of plain, uninspired salmon on top of what appeared to be sliced red and yellow peppers – really guys? A thinner pastry would allow it to be cooked through, spinach would probably be a better addition than the peppers, and seasoning the salmon might actually give the dish some flavor. Maybe we have uncovered a flaw in the armor of Zoe.
They did seem to have thought of everything though. There’s a pallet of newspapers and magazines at the entrance, a trio of tables with little chairs outside for the smokers and a flask of water on the table for the thirsty. It truly is a great place to spend any time of day. In the afternoon the coves of comfortable couches, pastry counter, Wi-Fi and coffee attract the laptop-wielding professionals, and in the evenings on the weekend the late dinner service gently transitions into a dark, lively, cocktail-infused bar scene with people young and old swarming the tables and corners of the restaurant. And perhaps I am being a bit too critical about the food; perhaps a bit too harsh and picky. It was a great meal – I just feel it has the potential to be even better.
What’s most exciting is that Café Zoe marks the beginning of something different. It’s the uptick in the flat-line that was Bombay’s culinary culture. Something with ingenuity, meaning and character. There are few others like it; a handful of establishments that have the originality and the execution to succeed; a handful that get it – and this is one of them.
‘Zoe’ isn’t perfect. But what place is? What’s so great about this resto-coffeeshop-bar is that everything it sets out to do, it does well. It wants to be open and airy and lively and it is. It wants to have good, wholesome food at good value and it does that too. But most of all, it lets the customers enjoy themselves; for them to be comfortable and happy in an environment that suits them. It’s not just a restaurant. It’s a place where you can just be. And that’s why ‘Zoe’ wins.
Todi Mathuradas Mill Compound 126, N M Joshi Marg,
Lower Parel, Mumbai, 400013
Tel: 022 2490 2065